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A Fun, Safe Way to Connect with Your Neighbors

Try a “book swap n’ stroll,” a neighborly way to clear clutter, check in with others and lay in a winter reading supply all at once.

Reading a book
Credit: Getty Images

Every year, my neighborhood has a big fall party in our local park. Every year but this one, as our gathering has been added to the long list of fun traditions claimed by the pandemic. All is not lost, though, as we’ve come up with a fun activity that is inviting to neighbors of all ages—and safely able to take place in a socially distanced way.

We’re calling it a “book swap n’ stroll,” and it’s an idea worth sharing.

Everyone who wants in adds their address to a list we’ll use to create a simple map of the neighborhood with dots indicating participating homes. Then we all head to our bookshelves, piling up any titles that our families are no longer using or enjoying. 

On the appointed day, each neighbor will bring their books outside and lay them out on folding tables or on thick blankets set in the grass. 

Next step, stroll! Masked up and equipped with a tote bag (or two), we’ll walk around the neighborhood, using the map as a reference to hunt for new gems to tuck into our bags and bring home for cozy winter reading. Our rule is, “you don’t have to give in order to take, and you don’t have to take if you’ve given.” It’s open for everyone to use the occasion to restock, or to clear out—whatever best serves their happiness in the moment.

At the end of the day, we have volunteers lined up to collect the books that have not been claimed, pack them into boxes and drive them to a book donation site. We are lucky to have a used bookstore nearby that also is a training center for underserved young people who want to learn business and management skills—the organization is especially in need of donations during the pandemic. Your local library or used bookstore might also welcome a carload of books from your neighborhood, just give them a call to find out.

Here’s the best part about any sort of book swap, socially distanced or otherwise—getting a peek at someone’s book collection gives you a glimpse into their lives and hearts.

Some parents will be giving away well-loved books their children have outgrown. Some neighbors will have changed their eating habits and will be letting go of cookbooks from a different time in their lives. And there will probably be at least one neighbor whose love of mysteries, romance novels, pirate memoirs or the history of the circus will take you by delighted surprise.

They say good fences make good neighbors. Turns out, good books do, too!

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